In the year since his succession to the Presidency, Lyndon Johnson has so ingeniously manipulated national politics that he currently enjoys an endorsement he hopes may bring a return to the Era of Good Feeling. In his native Texas, he enjoys the same widely divergent support that he does on a national scale but there it has created more chaos than good feeling. The warring elements of the Democratic Party, the liberals and conservatives, have rarely been so confused.
Johnson inherited from Kennedy not only the White House but a liberal program and the leadership of a liberal party. In Texas, President Johnson--like Vice-President Johnson and Senator Johnson before him--was master of the conservative wing of that party; his friends were conservatives, his benefactors were conservatives, his patronage went to conservatives.
His voting record in the Senate had always been relatively liberal and his sentiment on national issues was the same, but at home he was an undoubted conservative. He protected the oil depletion allowance more assiduously than he ever espoused liberal ideas and the political machinery he had masterfully welded had few elements that were not right of center.
The liberal wing was led by Senator Ralph Yarborough and the animosity between Johnson and Yarborough was both deep and dramatic. It was during President Kennedy's trip to Texas, in fact, that this rivalry reached some of its most heated moments. There was substantial fear among the liberals that the money being raised by the chief political event on the President's schedule, a $100 a plate dinner to be held November 23rd, would be used by the conservatives to unseat Yarborough and keep liberals out of state offices. The Senator had even refused to ride in the same car with the Vice-President until Kennedy ordered him to do so in Dallas.
But when Lyndon Johnson was elevated to the Presidency the situation in Texas was clouded. As it became clear that Johnson would carry on the Kennedy program and, indeed, enlarge upon it and get it passed, most of the liberals of Texas found themselves supporting the man they had so often opposed.
Within the state, however, Johnson's conservative associates were doing business as usual. John Connally, as Governor, was the ranking member of the state party and also headed its conservative element. Although he served for a short time as Secretary of the Navy in the Kennedy government, his campaign for Governor had been based on an essentially anti-Kennedy platform; he was opposed to the civil rights bill, to Medicare, and to many other key points in the New Frontier.
At the same time he was one of Johnson's oldest and closest allies. "I love him like a brother," Johnson once said, "I love him more than I do Sam Houston." Like Johnson, Connally had often quarreled with Ralph Yarborough but, unlike Johnson, had not settled his differences with him. When Don Yarborough, a fellow liberal and close associate of Ralph Yarborough's but no relation, announced that he would again oppose Connally in the Democratic Primary, Connally was gravely offended and decided to launch a major attack on the liberals.
His first task, of course, was to find an opponent for Ralph Yarborough which he did by persuading conservative Joe Kilgore to run for the Senate rather than for re-election to Congress. Then the Governor of Texas received a telephone call from the President of the United States and Kilgore withdrew. Senator Yarborough was left with only one opponent, a Dallas broadcaster who conducted one of the dirtiest campaigns of recent times but lost none-theless.
The rift between Johnson and Connally was short-lived but it was enough to encourage the liberals considerably. They concluded that the President was committed to a liberal program and wanted to see men elected to the Senate who would support that program. They hoped also that he might be remembering the lessons he learned as a protege to Franklin Roosevelt.
They sometimes suggested that perhaps his ancient support for local conservatives was based on the fact that Johnson was a pragmatic politician with a basically conservative constituency; now that the entire nation was his electorate Johnson could pursue his liberal views more freely. And a number of them believed that the Presidency had washed away the clinging conservatives and made him clean.
"The only thing left for Lyndon Johnson," a leading Texas liberal said recently, "is for history to remember him in a fine sort of way." In order to achieve this remembrance, it was reasoned, Johnson would tackle the greatest problems of the day: peace, poverty, civil rights. The solution to these problems are inevitably liberal ones and so the liberals were encouraged.
But at the same time there was the nagging problem of local politics. Governor Connally was handily re-elected, garnering an immense sympathy vote for his having been wounded when President Kennedy was killed. He then set about to increase his hold on the Texas Democratic Party. In all the significant counties of the state, the Connally forces and the liberals battled to gain control of the delegations to the state convention.